What to do during an earthquake
- Drop to the ground, take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture and hold on until the shaking stops. If there isn't a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
- Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
- Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
- Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway.
- Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
- Do not use elevators.
- Stay there.
- Move away from buildings, street lights and utility wires.
- Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.
If in a moving vehicle
- Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses and utility wires.
- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.
If trapped under debris
- Do not light a match.
- Do not move about or kick up dust.
- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
- Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Rene Shoffett recently moved into a new east Gainesville subdivision and is used to the occasional echo of a hammer or rumble from a bulldozer, but the shake of an earthquake is another story.
"At first I thought it was bulldozers or something ... but then I saw that there was not bulldozers running around," Shoffett said.
Earthquakes are a rarity in the state — a reason many local residents were initially in a state of confusion following the 5.8-magnitude quake centered northwest of Richmond, Va.
Shoffett said the shaking, while minor, lasted for about 30 seconds.
"I was just laying on my couch watching TV and I was like, ‘Wow, that feels strange; may be an earthquake,' and sure enough it was," she said.
Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said he felt the shock at the fire station off East Crescent Drive.
Kimbrell also said the shaking was minor. "It was the first time I've ever felt a building shake, but we did feel it here."
The epicenter of the quake was 3.7 miles underground and was originally classified at a 5.9 magnitude before being downgraded to 5.8 by the United States Geological Survey. A 5.9-magnitude quake is the largest on the East Coast since 1944, when one of the same strength occurred in New York.
Tuesday's quake shook much of Washington, D.C., even causing parts of the White House, Pentagon and Capitol to be evacuated.
Julian Gray, resident geologist at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, said there were even reports of the quake being felt as far north as Canada. He said a quake that size might be felt 400 miles away.
"It is very rare that we have a magnitude 5.9 earthquake on the East Coast because we're generally not accustomed to having them here," Gray said.
A 5.8-magnitude earthquake, Gray said, would even be relatively large scale for California. It could be compared to an explosion of eight tons of TNT, about half the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Beth Walker was working at Guilford Immediate Care off Jesse Jewell Parkway when the shaking began, bewildering her and others in the office.
"It actually felt like I was getting dizzy," Walker said. "We looked up and the door ... was rocking back and forth."
Like Shoffett, Walker initially thought it was a vehicle creating the shaking.
"At first we thought it might be a truck, but we didn't hear a truck," she said.
Other residents, however, instantly knew the shaking was an earthquake.
"I was in my kitchen and had finished doing some artwork and the kitchen cabinet doors started rattling and kept rattling," said Robyn Hood Black of Gainesville. "My first thought was earthquake."
Kimbrell, also Hall County's director of emergency management, said the county would treat damaging earthquakes as it would any other sort of emergency situation.
"We're more of an all-hazard type approach, so a tornado that knocks a building down, we would search that just like an earthquake that knocked a building down," Kimbrell said.
Because the threat of an earthquake is not nearly as likely in Gainesville as other forms of natural disasters, Kimbrell said the Emergency Management Agency does not place significant emphasis on earthquake preparedness, but "this may be a time to re-evaluate that."
Kimbrell said there were no reports of damage as a result of the quake.
Associated Press contributed to this story.